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Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on March 12, 2011

Rheumatoid arthritis is an increasingly common autoimmune disease that affects primarily adults aged 30-50. It can affect both men and women, but is more commonly found in women. Sometimes, the condition is also referred to as rheumatoid disease, and it is not the same as the more common form of arthritis that affects the bones and joints. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as many other types of related autoimmune conditions, is not known. Some researchers speculate that a rise in autoimmune conditions may be due to increased vaccinations, more widespread use of antibiotics, and greater protection against many common forms of bacteria in industrialized nations. This idea is commonly referred to as the hygiene hypothesis, but it has yet to be proven in a scientific setting.

Others guess that conditions like rheumatoid arthritis may be caused by environmental factors. It is clear that there is a genetic link associated with the condition, but the disease was relatively unheard of until the last century. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include excessive fatigue, chronic pain, and increase swelling in certain types of the body. Symptoms can be intermittent, increasing in severity over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is often difficult to diagnose, and patients are often forced to undergo years of testing before an accurate diagnosis can be attained.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the white blood cells of the immune system begin attacking cells and tissues of the body that are not normally perceived as a threat. In normal immune functioning, these white blood cells would attack only invaders such as bacteria or viruses, providing protection against illness and infection. The most common form of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is immune suppressive therapy. Immunosuppressants are medications that suppress immune functioning. When these medications are prescribed, there is very little protection against other types of illnesses or infections. 

During treatment periods, people with rheumatoid arthritis may need to be isolated or kept away from other people to reduce the risk of illness or infection. Once the immune suppressive therapy is completed, the risk for illness or infection returns to normal. It has been proven that, over time, damage done to bones and joints by rheumatoid arthritis can heal itself while the patient is taking immunosuppressants. Rheumatoid arthritis is often a progressive disease, which means that it worsens over time. Some people with the condition are able to continue normal activity for a period of time, while others are left more permanently disabled. In some cases, medications and treatments allow those with rheumatoid arthritis to return to daily activities and functioning improves.

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